While we are still enjoying relative freedom in Sydney to move from place to place, see friends, get out of the house whenever we choose, Melbourne remains in strict lockdown. One of the things we see children and parents fear about lockdown is the lack of connection with family, friends, schoolmates, and work colleagues. The other is about sameness, lack of stimulation, boredom and claustrophobia.
Some children and teenagers have feared the recurrence of lockdown in Sydney, as their experience was so difficult the first time it happened. What we know about recurrent stressors is that they can be framed as something to fear and avoid, or we can fortify ourselves by framing them as experiences that we are familiar with, and ready for.
When thinking about lockdown periods, it is important for parents and teenagers to see themselves as ready: we have done this before, we know the challenges, and we can be mentally prepared. In talking to younger children, parents can talk about planning – what we will do, how we will manage if we have to stay at home for a length of time.
Planning is important both for routines, and for contingencies – rehearsing what to do when something new happens. The word “routine” can provoke something of an allergic reaction in many teenagers, as their development at this stage of life is all about discovery, surprise, and seeking out the new.
But routine can be seen as a safe place, a container that holds the hours of the day together, by having a predictable set of activities which we follow, no matter what. Bringing in new activities can keep us energised and engaged, but the routine means that security and predictability stays in place. Plan the day, plan the week, and plan for how everyone will manage if all this planning goes awry.
Routines do not have to be about breakfast-lunch-dinner (although they are key activities!) and you can build into the routine some of the social activities that seem trivial, but can be forgotten under pressure. This “7 days of Kindness” planner was developed for primary school-aged children in the UK under the “Mentally Healthy Schools” initiative, but is good for older teenagers as well, and for parents.